Contestants in the NTRA National Horseplayers Championship helped demonstrate the different game theories utilized by participants with differing time horizons. Day-to-Day horseplayers maximize their revenue with a focus on long term strategies. Contest players often have a different utility in maximizing their short term gains with approaches that may or may not be conducive to those focused on the long time horizons.
Earlier this week, the NTRA released the all contest plays from the 2020 NHC which was held at Bally’s Las Vegas on February 7th through 9th. uring the first two days of the handicapping contest players were required to make a balance of mandatory and optional selections. Below is a review of the fifteen mandatory selections.
Friday Mandatory Race 1 – Oaklawn Race 3
The first mandatory race of the 2020 Championship contest was Oaklawn Park Race 3 in which the popular selection in the Bally’s Event Center was ENDER who was 8.80-to-1 in the parimutuel pool. In the below charts, the percentage of the NHC contestants who chose each betting number is depicted. For example, only 8.7% of the contestants used the 2.1-to-1 post-time favourite and winner, #1 FUTILE.
Friday Mandatory Race 2 – Oaklawn Race 5
Friday’s second mandatory race was Oaklawn Park Race 5, another claiming event. Once again the room shunned the parimutuel sweetheart, #3 YOUNG HENDRICK, as many contestants prefer the game plan of selecting longshots to win the three-day contest. The most popular contest selection was #5 BEEMIE AWARDS perhaps because the winner was perceived as the most likely winner. The least popular contest selection, #2 STRONG ARM – 0.3% of contestants used the least popular real-life runner who went off at 114-to-1 on the tote.
Friday Mandatory Race 3 – Gulfstream Race 9
Third in the mandatory lineup was Gulfstream Park Race 9. At this point in the tournament, contestant behaviour is still mirroring the longshot end of the parimutuel pool. The second-place finisher in the allowance optional-claiming event was the 85.9-to-1 runner, #5 RUNNING FOR RIZ, who represented 0.7% of the NHC sphere. Long vs. short time horizons is evident at lower prices. The 8-to-5 favourite, #1 LAST JUDGEMENT, was approximately 20-to-1 in the ballroom, while the room’s choice, #7 MOONOVERSEBA, at 3-to-1 was closer to 10-to-1 in real life.
Friday Mandatory Race 4 – Gulfstream Race 10
Gulfstream Park Race 10 was Friday’s fourth mandatory race. By this point in the contest, more players are beginning to select the longest parimutuel odds as their selections; however, these horses are still relatively priced as longshots in the room. While the post-time first and second choices, which partnered for the winning exacta #9 FRENCH QUARTER – #3 POSTINO’S VOW, were used by many contestants, the NHC top choice was #10 SMOKE ‘N’ GLOAT was 4-to-1 in the room and 7-to-2 in real life. At this point, the majority (at least in this race) are still using lower-priced runners.
Friday Mandatory Race 5 – Santa Antia Race 5
The Baffle was the first mandatory stakes race of the contest. By 3 PM, contestants are settling into the short time horizon decision making. The 9-to-5 parimutuel choice, #3 BULLETPROOF ONE, was only tabbed by roughly 10% of the contestants. Second choice amongst contestants, #6 BIG RETURNS, would have provided just that big returns at 16.8-to-1 odds.
Friday Mandatory Race 6 – Santa Anita Race 7
The second mandatory event from Santa Anita was Race 7. The post-time fav of the maiden claiming turf race, #9 GOING TO VEGAS, proved that the room was tending more to longshots than to hunch plays as less than five percent of contestants played the winning Peter Miller-trainee. Instead, the room fancied second public-choice and second-place finisher, #6 LUCIA’S DESIGN.
Friday Mandatory Race 7 – Golden Gate Race 8
The final mandatory race for the opening day was Golden Gate Race 8. The room top two choices, #2 MAD AT MONEY & #6 REY COLIMAN, were equally supported inside of the contest (~19%) and outside of the contest (~13-to-1). Again the post-time favourite was the tournament outcast – the even-money winner #8 KLONDIKE CREEK was used by a twentieth of the contestants.
Saturday Mandatory Race 1 – Gulfstream Race 4
Gulfstream Park’s Fourth was the opening mandatory event for Day 2 of the NHC. The second day started with the continued divergence between pari-mutuel prices and contest selection popularity. The 5-to-2 public choice, #8 DING DONG DITCH, had approximately 6% NHC support. #6 WAR FEATHER, 12.2-to-1 in real life was supported by 18.2% of the NHC horseplayers.
Saturday Mandatory Race 2 – Gulfstream Race 5
Saturday’s second mandatory race was a maiden turf route, Gulfstream Race 6, in which the trend of public favourite avoidance continues. #3 MAGICAL MIKE was selected by 3.5% of the contestants despite being the less than 3-to-1 amongst the public players. The approach to maximize bankroll rapidly at the risk of ruin is a popular tournament strategy.
The room’s dominant play, #5 NORTH DAKOTA, was the public’s 4th choice. The next most popular NHC play was #11 GOLDEN TAPIT who was the public’s 8th choice at 15.7-to-1.
Saturday Mandatory Race 3 – Aqueduct Race 6
The sole mandatory play from Aqueduct was Saturday’s sixth race. The 5-to-2 post-time favourite, #8 THESIS, was supported by about a tenth of the room. Room fav was the public second choice, #7 STONE BREAKER, at 7-to-2. The only double-digit odds horse within the race, #2 SUDDEN SURPRISE, garnered 15.3% of contest play. This race had fewer players chasing prices than what might be expected on Day 2.
Saturday Mandatory Race 4 – Oaklawn Race 5
The final Oaklawn Park mandatory came in the form of Saturday’s fifth race. The horseplayers in Las Vegas returned to their favouritism avoidance mode. #9 CONTROL STAKE at 2.8-to-1 was 19-to-1 amongst contestants. A fifth of the contestants chose the public third choice and winner, #1 D’ RAPPER. The place-getter and second-most popular contest selection was #5 POWERFUL ALLEY at 14.1-to-1.
Saturday Mandatory Race 5 – Tampa Bay Race 9
The Suncoast Stakes was Tampa Bay Downs’s first mandatory race of the day. With all but one horse under double digits on the tote board, the room and public both rejected the chances of longshot #6 MISS IMPORTANT. The public-private dichotomy continued with #9 EMBOSSED publically supported at 6-to-1 odds while being half that privately.
Saturday Mandatory Race 6 – Tampa Bay Race 10
The Grade 3 Tampa Bay Stakes was the prototypical mandatory contest play as the 10%-cut to make the semi-finals was looming. An inversion of short and long time horizons was evident in the fact that the winner and room sweetheart was #3 ADMIRALTY PIER while being 21-to-1 with the betting public. A huge sigh of relief was made by many in the room who were bombing, being defensive, or proudly selected the Barbara Minshall-trainee on merits. Had the $60 contest horse been adjudicated to a demoted position following to the stewards’ inquiry, the resulting chalky exacta would have changed the complexion of the contest.
Saturday Mandatory Race 7 – Golden Gate Race 8
The penultimate tournament mandatory play was the Golden Gate Race 8 produced one of the two contest horses with points capped in both the win and place payouts. As with the previous mandatory, the most used contest horse was the winner at boxcar win and place prices of $85.40 and $27.80 respectively.
Saturday Mandatory Race 8 – Santa Anita Race 7
As one would have anticipated the longshot in the final mandatory on the totalisator backed ~5x more in the NHC than in real life. #8 CAMINO DEL PARAISO $33.80 place payout was truncated to the contest maximum of $22.
Equally expected, the 5-to-2 post-time favourite, #7 FRONTIER MARKET, was one of the least contestant-supported the public choice of any mandatory race fetching only 3.6%.
Having been employed primarily as a racing official for the last fifteen years, I can in no way state that I am a contest expert. Qualitatively, one observes an increased willingness of contestants to using longer priced runners as the number of mandatory contest plays diminish. It seems prudent for contestants to opt for longer prices at a more aggressive pace as for their success to be a separator longshots would have more utility when others aren’t selecting them.
In a future post, optional race selections will be analyzed.
Photo credits: Horsephotos/NTRA